Harrison Ford’s first day back as Han Solo after 32 years finally took place on a sound-stage at Pinewood Studios, a moment we thought would never happen, as over the years Ford has often talked about his dislike for the “dumb as a stump” character, so the fact that Harrison Ford as come back to reprise his role as Solo is kind of a miracle. It’s common knowledge that the actor wanted George Lucas to kill off the character in The Empire Strikes Back (which would have made that film a bigger classic than it already is) but thankfully Lucas kept the character around, so it was a massive surprise to learn that he would be back for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but the best bit for me was when we saw him show up at the end of the second teaser trailer that was released at Comic Con, I don’t think I was the only one with a slight tear, although I had a bigger one recently.
I was lucky enough to be invited to the premiere screening of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation at the PR event at the new IMAX at the Vue Leeds, Kirkstall Road. Prior to the film screening we had Kevin Styles, UK and Ireland MD of Vue Entertainment give a talk about what the new screen would offer to Vue customers, but it was when Giovanni Dolci, Vice President, Theatre Development EMEA, IMAX Corporation, (who had come over from IMAX HQ in Toronto to open the event) said at the end of his speech, “Although this premiere tonight is only in 2D, we’ve got something special for you, please put on your 3D glasses and enjoy the first screening in Leeds of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer 2 in 3D!…and in Digital IMAX!! …I was in seventh heaven and got Goosebumps ‘head-to-toe. The sound was totally amazing, it thumped straight to your heart, but the 3D was an even bigger surprise, it seems J.J. Abrams has creatively used it much in the same way as James Cameron did in Avatar, especially when you see those X-Wings flying over the lake, it will blow you away.
But for me the best moment was when Harrison Ford appeared as Han Solo and said “Chewie, we’re home” I had a tear rolling down one cheek, plus I was the only one in auditorium who said ‘Whoop’ at the end…total geek moment.
It seems several members of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens cast and crew had a similar experience on witnessing Ford’s return to the franchise, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy talked to Entertainment Weekly recently on how he was met with such reverence from everyone who worked on the movie.
“The minute Harrison and Chewie walked on board the Millennium Falcon — that was incredible. Every single person on the set was stunned. I remember turning around and there must have been 200 people gathered behind me — completely quiet. I didn’t even know they were there. The whole crew had stopped working, staring at the monitor, because it was so iconic.”
That would have been quite an awesome sight to see. It must have been such a cool experience to be there to see that, even veteran screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan said this about the surreal moment:
“It was sort of surreal for everybody, and it wasn’t just Han, it wasn’t just Harrison. It was seeing all this stuff. The Millennium Falcon has been a big part of my life, from Empire to Jedi to Force Awakens — and now I’ve written a movie about the young Han. So the Falcon has enormous resonance for me. And I don’t know if you can imagine what it would be like to watch things being shot on that set with those people.”
Oh, I’ve got to say Mr Kasdan, I’ve got a pretty good imagination, and I’d have given Harrison my right leg to witness it. Although he did laugh at the end of the interview, trying to find the right words, and settled on: “It’s pretty cool! …Hell yes it must have been cool, cool as flipping carbonite more like.
Even Director J.J. Abrams has also finally offered his thoughts on Mr Ford’s return, and especially that leg injury that he suffered on the set of the movie:
“It was obviously a horrible experience that I wish had never happened for obvious reasons. But the truth is, once we knew that Harrison was going to be okay, we all realized this was this greatest gift to the movie, and I would think that any filmmaker would say, ‘If I could get a break after a month of shooting, for a few weeks, to recalibrate, I would take it…When it became clear that he was going to be just fine, we realized we didn’t need to change (the script) at all. In fact, there are some places where he’s more active than he was prior to the accident. As you’ll see in the movie, he is running and doing more physical activity in this movie than I think anyone who knows he was injured would expect. Nothing was adjusted or lessened because of that accident. Even for Harrison, who is famously resilient and strong, he blew everyone’s minds.”
Abrams recently told The Daily Show that he strained so hard trying to lift the door off Ford that he ended up rupturing a vertebra and had to wear a back brace.
Harrison also told The Today Show about his first day back, the 72-year-old actor said he was “glad to see that costume for the last time,” and even appeared a bit overcome himself to be back in it.
Kathleen Kennedy spoke also about the emotional side to his return:
“Harrison was going through his own experience, finding that place for himself again, to return to something that had been so much a part of his identity and acting career, It was his own little personal journey, but once he got there, it was amazing. I mean, he was Han Solo again. That’s why everybody else got so quiet! They were like, ‘Oh my God, he’s back!’”
I bet it was great to be back Mr Ford until they dropped part of the Falcon on you, although the accident happened mid-way through production when that large segment of the Millennium Falcon came loose and landed on the actor, breaking his leg. The film’s release was never pushed back, but principal photography was put on hold and the wrap-date was shifted to the fall so Ford could recuperate, and gave JJ valuable time to recalibrate, and the actors’ bonus time to rehearse.
They witnessed another astounding recovery months later, in March, when Ford survived the crash-landing of his refurbished World War II training plane and recovered in time to wave a plastic lightsabre at San Diego Comic-Con in July.
“He apparently is an actual superhero,” Kasdan says.
Even the Wookie was a walking wounded, Ford’s Falcon co-pilot, Chewbacca played by Peter Mayhew, and like many people of such large size, had joint problems and recently underwent double knee replacement surgery and now walks with the aid of a cool lightsabre shaped cane. But for me what sounds so moving about them both, they don’t only share war wounds, they have a genuine ‘Han & Chewie’ bond in real life, as when Kennedy witnessed the moment the first time the two men saw each other at dinner when the whole cast was reunited just before shooting started.
“I had no idea how close Peter and Harrison were. And when Harrison came into the room and Peter was sitting down, he just went over and gave him the biggest hug, and you could just see that there had been this incredible relationship between these two.”
That must have been a special moment to witness, almost has well has how Kasdan describes his return after the leg injury:
“It’s a strange kind of thing, but there was this moment of pause, and when Harrison came back, he lit up the whole place. And he was so funny and warm and helpful to the young people, and generous with his old co-stars… I don’t know. It was kind of miraculous.”
It does sound miraculous indeed, as somewhere along the line with Lucas he may have lost that love of this character, but now thanks J.J. and his creative team, it seems, Han Solo has really returned home.